Saturday, March 22, 2008

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament: Saturday's Second Round Games

UCLA vs. Texas A&M

This is a game UCLA can lose. It’s not something that Texas A&M can take from them, but it is certainly something UCLA can give to them. If Love gets in foul trouble, if Mbah A Moute doesn’t play, if the 3pt shots aren’t falling and if the Bruins get lazy offensively, the Aggies can be in this game.

More likely, however, Love dominates the matchup with either Jones or Jordan, the A&M guards have all kinds of trouble initiating their offense against Collison and Westbrook and Josh Carter is unable to find any type of open looks from the perimeter.

First guess: UCLA 68 Texas A&M 51

Purdue vs Xavier

A year ago in this round of the tournament, Xavier was busy giving Ohio St all they could handle, and then some, in their upset bid. You can bet Sean Miller will be playing up the comparison this year. Xavier is now the tournament-tested squad, up against the talented but inexperienced challenger.

Physically, Purdue can hang with this team. Xavier probably has a little more bulk on the interior, they probably have guards that are just a bit quicker, and they have more athleticism on the wings. But, Purdue, despite being a young team, has a lot of fight in them. While no one Purdue defender can handle Drew Lavender (who appears to be back from his ankle problems), the combination of Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, E’Twaun Moore and Marcus Green can slow him. However, as we saw in the first round game, Xavier has the ability to just about totally eliminate one of the opposing team’s best players from the game, by just tapping Stanley Burrell on the shoulder. Burrell dominated Georgia PG Sundiatta Gaines in the 2nd half of Xavier’s first round matchup, and should Grant or Moore start to give the Musketeers problems, you can bet that Burrell will be pointed in their direction.

Meanwhile, the Musketeer frontcourt (Brown, Anderson and Duncan, mainly) should just be too much athletically for the talented but raw Boilermaker frontcourt.

First guess: Xavier 69 Purdue 60

West Virginia vs. Duke

After Duke almost got out-Duked by a run-and-gun Belmont team in the first round, the Devils run into a team who just a year ago would have tried to do the same thing: beat Duke in a 3pt shooting contest. However, with Bob Huggins on guard-duty in Morgantown, the Mountaineers have played a bit more conventionally this season. While they still have a few guys who will be very comfortable bombing from downtown should it come to that (Ruoff, Nichols, Butler), it is more likely that West Virginia will try to ride their superstar, Joe Alexander, getting him the ball in the post, in the slot, facing him up, backing him down. However, as skilled and athletic as Alexander is, he runs into a guy who could be the perfect matchup for him.

Duke sophomore Gerald Henderson has really come into his own this year, finding a consistent mid-range jumper to go with his explosive athletic ability. Henderson has also improved tremendously on the defensive end, to the point where he has stopper ability. While he gives away several inches to Alexander, his long arms, leaping ability and quickness should make him a good defensive matchup.

The rest of the Duke entourage should have the ability to get free within their offense for their constant barrage of deep shots. The Devil backcourt is just too fast, too quick and too deep for the Mountaineers to contend with for a full 40 minutes. West Virginia should stick around for a half or more, but in the end, there will be too much Duke.

First guess: Duke 81 West Virginia 70

Michigan St vs. Pitt

The athletic trainers are going to be in for a workout once this game ends. Anybody who sees any playing time at all (and perhaps a few even who don’t) are going to be in dire need of heating pads, ice packs, bandages and rubdowns. This will be an all-out battle. Every possession will be a turf fight, and in the end, the win will go to the team that is the toughest.

You really can’t argue with the toughness of the Michigan St team. Tom Izzo preaches hard-nosed defense and smart offense from day one. The two senior Drews for MSU (Neitzel and Naymick) will be relying on 4 years of Izzo teaching to get them to one more game. However, there is an awful lot of youth on this team. Three freshman will be relied on not only to provide smart play offensively, but strength against an athletic, gritty Pitt perimeter. Further, soph Raymar Morgan is really the second offensive option for the Spartans.

Pitt not only has an advantage in terms of overall experience, but they are more athletic on the perimeter and stronger in the middle. However, this is not a particularly deep team, and if the whistles are coming fast and furious, MSU can take advantage of a Pitt team weakened by foul trouble. Plus, MSU can throw three (or more) big men, and all the fouls at their disposal, at the Panther big men, should it come to that.

There will be some great individual matchups in this game (Fields vs. Neitzel, Young vs. Morgan), but in the end, despite what will surely be a valiant effort, Pitt will have too much athleticism and offensive ability for this MSU squad.

First guess: Pitt 62 Michigan St 56

Marquette vs. Stanford

This is your prototypical matchup of conflicting styles.

Stanford is going to throw a lineup out there featuring two 7-footers, along with length on the perimeter and off of the bench. They are going to dump the ball into their big men, they are going to put the ball up around the rim and they are going to attack the boards.

Marquette is going to run three guards. They are going to spread the floor and make the opposition match-up with their guards in open space. They are going to press the Stanford guards up and down the floor.

And, in the end, whoever has the ability to force their style of game onto the other one, will have the advantage. Generally, it is easier to slow the game down than it is to speed it up, so, as long as Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods can take care of the ball and get the ball fed into the post on a regular basis, Stanford could have an easy time. But if the Marquette guards can disrupt the Stanford offense, the Cardinal could be in a heap of trouble.

First guess: Stanford 69 Marquette 60

Notre Dame vs. Washington St

Washington St has the most problems facing teams who are long and athletic. Without a single thing against the Fighting Irish, that is just not a description of them in the least. If you can get in the faces of Derrick Low and Taylor Rochestie, the Cougar offense tends to bog down and die. If they can outquick you to an open spot and get a split second worth of a clean look, they will pick you apart every time. If the Irish have any chance of disrupting the Cougar offense, it may be that guys like Randy Ayers and Zach Hillesland have to guard players much smaller and quicker than them, and as it turns out, that could be even more deadly.

Not that Notre Dame doesn’t have offensive weapons of their own. Luke Harangody was the Big East Player of the Year, and he will not go down without a fight. Aaron Baynes has the size to battle him, but Harangody is quicker and more skilled than Baynes, and Baynes can certainly get into foul trouble. The next best option for Washington State would be Robbie Cowgill who, despite having an inch or two on Harangody, is probably too thin to effectively handle him in the low post.

But, without significant height mismatches in the guard positions, the Cougars are going to make it difficult for the Irish to get the ball into the post, they are going to be able to knock down their threes throughout, and more than likely, Tony Bennett will outcoach Mike Brey in a two-day turn-around affair.

First guess: Washington State 73 Notre Dame 63

Kansas vs. UNLV

UNLV looked terrific in their first round blowout of Kent State. The Golden Flashes were never able to get anything going offensively and a small UNLV team dominated a team of similar size and strength. Let’s put the notion that such a thing might happen again to rest right now. Kansas is no Kent State.

Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, even Cole Aldrich. The Running Rebs never saw anything like that in round one. Throw in perimeter players every bit the equal (or, let’s be honest, the better) than what the Rebs have and this one really should never be in doubt, right?

Well. Yeah. Probably. How could UNLV keep this close? Adams, Terry, Rougeau hound the Jayhawk guards up and down the court, keep the ball on the perimeter, knock down their shots offensively, and get a good bit of luck, and perhaps their strong perimeter game (both offensively and defensively) could keep them in it.

A more likely scenario? This one gets away from them by halftime.

First guess: Kansas 79 UNLV 52

Kansas St. vs. Wisconsin

Okay. First, a little advice. Michael Beasley. Hey. You’re a pretty damn good player. Your team really relies on you a lot. You’re going up against a team with a lot more size and a lot more effective interior players than you did in the last round. Howzabout, perhaps, try not picking up two fouls in the first four minutes like you did in that last game? Huh? Let’s see how that works. Because, if you do pick up a couple fouls early, I’m guessing your team doesn’t make it to halftime with a chance in hell.

Okay. Now that we got that out of the way. It really is the case that this game is going to be on Beasley’s back. He is far more athletic that Brian Butch or Greg Stiemsma, despite giving up a few inches, and has the ability to step outside and handle Butch if he should pull away from the basket. If he can stay in the game, make Butch work defensively (and perhaps get him in foul trouble, rather than the other way around), then perhaps the Wildcats can spring this upset.

A major question mark for the Badgers could be the ankle injury to Trevon Hughes. There is probably not enough depth in the Wisconsin backcourt to survive the loss of Hughes, although Michael Flowers could certainly make things tough for Wildcat backcourt.

In the end, the Wisconsin defense keeps the score low enough, they get Beasley and/or Walker in foul trouble early and often, and have just enough to pull this one out.

Wisconsin 61 Kansas St 59

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